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Musharraf charged in death of Bhutto

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — An antiterrorism court here placed Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former military leader, under arrest on Friday on charges related to the death of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, adding to a tangle of legal woes that have hobbled Musharraf’s hopes for a political comeback.

The order changes little for Musharraf in immediate terms. Musharraf, a retired army general, is already under house arrest at his villa on the edge of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, in a case involving his detention and firing of senior judges after imposing emergency rule in 2007.

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Musharraf was brought to the Rawalpindi court under tight security on Friday. He was ordered to return on Tuesday, said Salman Safdar, one of his lawyers.

The prosecution’s case rests on a statement by Mark Siegel, a Washington lobbyist and friend of Bhutto’s, who alleges that Musharraf made a threatening phone call to her before she returned to Pakistan in 2007 from self-imposed exile, Safdar said.

Prosecutors will question Musharraf about Siegel’s statement, as well as about allegations that he sent a threatening e-mail to Bhutto and failed to provide security to her, Zulfiqar Ali, special prosecutor for the Federal Investigation Agency, was quoted as saying in local news media.

Musharraf, 69, returned to Pakistan last month after four years in exile, hoping to carve out a place in politics. But his plans quickly went awry. His party received little public support, and the national election commission disqualified him from running in the general election, scheduled for May 11.

Then he found himself in court. In all, Musharraf faces charges in four cases — all related to decisions made during his nine years in power — as well as possible treason charges. Last week he tried to avoid arrest in the judicial firings case by dramatically fleeing an Islamabad court, protected by bodyguards, before eventually surrendering to the police.

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A decision on whether to file treason charges, which carry a potential death penalty, will probably be made by the next government.

Musharraf’s supporters and lawyers say all the cases are politically motivated.

‘‘I would call this a political case, based on mala fide,’’ Safdar said in an interview about the Bhutto case Friday evening, using the Latin for ‘‘bad faith.’’

“This is a prosecution merely on the basis of suspicion. The prosecution does not have concrete, tangible evidence.’’

Safdar said that Musharraf had not been implicated in Bhutto’s assassination until 2010, a year after he left Pakistan, and that Interpol had declined to arrest him despite four requests by the government that succeeded him.

Musharraf took to power in 1999 after a bloodless coup and wielded immense power until 2007, when his rule began to crumble. A botched attempt at removing Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry set off a political opposition movement that he failed to contain.

Bhutto had left the country in 1998 to avoid corruption charges stemming from her time as prime minister in the 1990s and had become a leading opposition figure.

Musharraf grudgingly allowed Bhutto to return, but they quickly developed differences. He briefly put her under house arrest after her return in October 2007, and on Dec. 27, after a political rally in Rawalpindi, Bhutto was assassinated in a gun and bomb attack.

Musharraf’s government blamed the former leader of the Pakistani Taliban for the attack. Bhutto’s supporters have long insinuated that Musharraf’s military-led government also played a role.

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